The origin of the Le Pal animal and theme park dates back to 1973, when Moulinois André Charbonnier decided to build a zoo on his family’s farmland and sold his food factory in Moulins (Allier) in return. He was assisted in this by a veterinarian from the Paris Zoo de Vincennes.
Although the zoo has had a park railway from the very beginning, it was not until 1981 that it was converted into a theme park, when the King Kong observation ride moved into the park. In the same year, however, the park’s founder died. The following years are characterised by a rather fruitless interim management, which, however, was able to realise some large installations. In 1990 Andrés stepson Arnaud Bennet took over the management of the amusement park. The park has ever since been growing steadily.
Le Pal with its 640000 visitors is now one of the five most visited theme parks in France, behind the parks of Disneyland Resort Paris, Parc Astérix and the Futuroscope. The park is probably only known to the common German amusement park fan with the opening of the roller coaster Le Twist. This year, the Family Launch Coaster Yukon Quad has been added to the list, so a visit is now a must. At least that’s what I thought, which is why I wanted to go to France for the planned opening of the roller coaster. A tour was planned and finally the visit was postponed to the second day of the ride; Walibi Rhône-Alpes was too far away to justify a visit on the second day of the journey.
Shortly before the park opened, I reached the car park of the animal and theme park and quickly bought my ticket at one of these incredibly practical ticket terminals on the right side of the entrance. But before we start our tour of the park, here’s a quick note: The Le Pal amusement park is incredibly large and its rides take eftelingesque forms, plus there’ s the zoo. Even on an off-season visit day, it’s a good idea not to go wildly back and forth between the park’s attractions. A second visiting day is advisable and can be combined with an overnight stay at the Lodges du Pal.
In this respect I was completely surprised and after a one kilometre long walk I reached the first attraction on the map: the spinning coaster Le Twist from Mack Rides. Naturally, there was the longest queue in the morning, and I also overlooked a small detail, but more about that later.
After the train has left the station, we soon climb the lift to the starting height of 22m. At the top we have enough time to enjoy the view in a short turn before we plunge into the valley below us. We glide powerfully through an elongated curve at 70 km/h, cheerfully turning around our own axis. In the following Immelmann Turn we look at the sky, the ground or our passengers, just before we fall to the ground again. In a right-hand bend we immediately start to climb up again to initiate an unprecedented spin in a wonderful sloping position. After a downhill left turn, we now make a short zigzag curve combination, which then changes into a curve in the shape of an eight. This is followed by a few shorter swings, whereupon the final brake is already reached and the fast, funny and by no means powerless ride ends.
Le Twist, like its sister ride Dwervelwind of the Dutch amusement park Toverland, is completely convincing. The ride also offers everything a good spinning coaster needs; after all, the passengers can enjoy a nice flow and a certain amount of spin on the ride. Simply, a really great ride!
With the next ride, however, one can argue about such a statement. I will make it relatively simple this time and concentrate on the historical significance of a King Kong ride in Le Pal. The park needed a new edition of the HUSS ride, because many customers remembered the typical French panoramic ride from their childhood (an active ride can still be found in the Cigoland amusement park today) and thought it a pity not to find that ride in the park anymore. The design of the queue with the curved railway wagons in the forest is also very successful. In contrast to the Belgian amusement park Bobbejaanland, the ride appears harmoniously staged and appropriate. But I don’t know whether these points overlook the inconsequential wobbling around at lofty heights.
While others are still allowed to think about it, we very quickly devote ourselves to two perennial favourites from Italy. With the Ronde des Grenouilles we have a brand new Jump Around for the smaller park guests and with the Disque du Soleil a Disk’o Coaster in a sleek Aztec look. Both rides are fun, but you won’t expect anything else from Zamperla. Interesting at the Disque du Soleil is the evacuation platform in the second valley – the French are probably a bit more careful there.
Past the Rapido dinghy boat slide, the path leads us to the Azteka roller coaster. Somehow the roller coasters of the French manufacturer Soquet nowadays seem to exist only in two versions, one with several short trains and one with a long train. This ride is one with shorter trains, which again looks quite impressive.
After leaving the station in a right turn, the lift hill of the ride is already waiting for you. At a height of 17m, you immediately start a lively 360° helix sightseeing tour. With a very high speed you will now plunge over a narrow hilltop and immediately hit the ground. With full speed, you will now rush through a curve close to the ground, which will gain more and more height over time. As in an inclined loop, you now pass through a sloped curve, whereby the crest has only little inclination and offers a short moment to catch your breath. Also the following valley does not spare neither its pressure distribution nor its cross slope, which leads to an interesting driving experience. After the following ascent, we now quickly pass through a block brake, just before we throw ourselves into another downward helix. With a running start we now reach a short ramp, on which we change direction very leisurely, which makes the transition to the following right-hand bend quite interesting. After a short camelback an upward helix follows, which then changes into a kind of steadily widening up and downhill curve and then into the braking section of the ride. Shortly afterwards the ride comes to an end.
Azteka is quite an interesting roller coaster, as it combines the thrilling ride of the Mine Trains with the sloping valleys of the Le King roller coaster by Soquet. As a solo traveller you will be shaken up quite a bit. As the ride is not very small, the ride can be described as impressive. It is surprisingly wild and untamed, just as you like a ride by Soquet.
You still remember the little detail I kept from you on the roller coaster Le Twist? Good, because at the latest at the wave swinger Chaises Volantes it became clear to me that the park is a single rider park like no other. While other amusement parks abolish their queues for single riders, here in Le Pal there is the possibility to fill up seats at almost every attraction. This is exemplary and ensures that the use of the single rider queue is considered normal in the whole park – no envy, no vulgarity, nothing. Le Pal is just great!
After such a peculiarity, the park certainly doesn’t offer any more peculiarities, does it? Well, you thought wrong. Right next to the wave swinger, the Tigre de Sibérie roller coaster extends into the sky – a large roller coaster made by Reverchon. What the carousel builder and later specialist for spinning coasters had in mind for this ride is best experienced by taking a seat directly in the hard shells of the train.
Directly adjacent to the station, the lift hill of the ride is already waiting to take us up to a height of 13m. At the top we cross a short hilltop, followed by a slightly longer curve. After the last car has left the lift, we soon fall down a steep curve. In a flowing movement we maintain the radius of the curve and storm skywards, which causes pronounced centrifugal forces especially in the valley. On the upcoming hill we change the direction of travel quite leisurely and enter a somewhat oversized downward helix with up and downhill sections. Thus we descend steadily over two valleys before leaving the element on a long ramp. After a short bend and a very wide right-hand curve, we reach the braking section of the ride. Since we are just too high to pass under the monorail shortly before the station, we have a short dip in the final bend. Shortly after that the ride is over again and we get off.
The Tigre de Sibérie is a very interesting ride with excellent driving characteristics. Unfortunately the ride flattens out towards the end. The reason for this might have been the former roller coaster Chenille Fantastique, whose thematic remains still characterise this part of the ride today. Nevertheless, the ride offers really nice curves that should not be missed.
Nor should we miss the old theme area we are now entering. Passing by the vintage car ride La Randonnée Africane, which reminds us of Danish dark rides of the same theme, and the French Old’99 La Conquête de l’Ouest – which is just as long – we are drawn to the Lac de Chercheurs de l’Or on which a raft ride is taking place. This is how fast the transition from Africa to North America can go.
As in every French family park, a good log flume is a must, usually called the Rivière Canadienne, as is the case here. The ride in Le Pal is made by Soquet and is particularly impressive because of its course up to the lift hill – after all, you pass the lift hill twice and bob along the landscape for a surprisingly long time. The ride itself is very wet. All in all a really solid ride.
If you are not careful, you will end up in a dead end at the Forêt Enchantée. As we are less interested in the toddler ride than in the ride whose passenger carriers have passed us several times before, we quickly look for another way. On an island we then meet the cog ride Les Caravelles, which looks really good both forwards and backwards.
But just before we reach our actual destination, another ride magically attracts us. I don’t know how I could have missed it completely in advance, but here in France we have Alligator Baie, probably the most stylish Splash Battle from Mack Rides. Thematically beautiful and also technically wonderful, a truly extraordinary ride is presented here in Le Pal. Unfortunately there were no rivals for a splash water battle. But those who were there made good use of the system.
Now finally arrived at the Descente du Colorado it doesn’t take long until we take a seat in one of the rafting boats. The trip through the beautifully designed canal, which is full of rapids at the beginning, convinces all along the line. On the way we will experience the proven elements of a European rapid river of the early 90’s, such as a tunnel with an included waterfall and a waterfall section with falls on both sides. However, the actually obligatory wave machine is missing. The level of wetness is manageable.
What fascinated me personally is the station of the ride, as this is also where the unused boats are stored. A crane is available for this purpose, which can be moved into position via a rack. What is amazing is the adjustment of the jetty roof so that the crane can be used without major conversions. Another fun fact is the circumstance that the ride used to use boats with individual seats and later replaced them with the manufacturer’s proven 8-seater boats.
Fun facts are almost as exciting as Easter Eggs. One such can be found at the station of the Voyage au-dessus du Monde – i.e. the journey around the world or, more appropriately (if translated literally) the journey above the world – where we encounter the Tigre de Sibérie as painting. Shortly afterwards, the ride in the monorail also offers an excellent view of the aforementioned roller coaster.
Past the station of the Train Aventiers, a park railway with special effects, the tour continues into an oriental-looking area. Here you will find numerous rides by Zamperla, including a teacup ride and a children’s free-fall tower, a Fabbri ship swing, and the 4D simulator Ciné Dinamique 3D. The latter one interested me very much, because it shows the 4D film Happy Family, a Mack Media production. Many of you may know the film from Europa Park, but I personally didn’t know the film before. I was quite astonished when half of the film was told in the pre-show and you were only invited to board the simulators shortly before the roller coaster sequence of the ghost train ride. Other parks would have shown the full movie in the pre-show. The ride in the large-capacity simulators scores with its timing and the beautifully animated film. Hats off!
On the way to our last attraction, we now enter the park’s zoo. First we follow the Circuit Court with its 90 minutes, before we change to the Circuit Long with its 3 hours, after all we want to see the meerkats. French people have to sprint through a zoo, because both times are wrong, here you can easily spend a whole day. At a normal visitor’s pace, 4-5 hours should quickly come together here.
Passing the giraffe enclosure we follow the signs before we come across a large lake. There we watch the hustle and bustle of the squirrel monkeys a little closer before we enter the farm area with its integrated petting zoo. I like the concept and the animals have really large areas of retreat.
Past the chimpanzees, the path now leads us into the predator area directly at the entrance. Both lions and tigers have enormously large enclosures here, which teem with retreat areas. Since the enclosures are only visible to the visitor in a few places, you have to search for a long time until you meet the animals.
Just wow, but the elephant enclosure in the immediate vicinity clearly hits the target of species-appropriate enclosures. The enclosure is larger than many German zoos or amusement parks! You’d think Flamingo Land in Yorkshire would have big enclosures, but Le Pal tops it all. I did not expect that in advance. The amusement park is already great, but the zoo has a lot more to offer and we have only managed a good third of it.
Time for a show. Along the enclosures of the red pandas, gibbons and jeladas, we will go to the big bird of prey show. We will have a look at it from the entrance path, because in Le Pal the paths are blocked right on time at the beginning of the show. So it is not worth coming late. But what is very worthwhile is the show itself. One by one, numerous birds of prey are presented, before the park moves on to the brilliant finale and releases all the large birds present to the show visitors. All of a sudden storks, ibises and cattle egrets are in the middle of the crowd. This show is not to be missed!
I was immediately drawn to the next show, which was to start just a few minutes later. Parrots are the stars of the Carnival des Plumes. Although not everything went well so shortly after the start of the season, nobody should be forced in animal shows. Here, too, the educational approach is dominant, but even those who don’t speak the language get their money’s worth. After all, you can watch parrots during recycling.
The next show will be a while away, so let’s get into round no.2 through the magnificent zoo. This time we concentrate on native species and watch wolves and lynxes before we turn to snow panthers and exotic birds. The Alligator Park – a fully themed walk past American alligators and turtles – is a particularly interesting attraction, which could be standing around somewhere in Florida.
After a fleeting glimpse of the flamingos, the time has come to take a seat in the large stadium, as the sea lion show Le Ballet des Otaries is about to begin. Apart from all kinds of slapstick, visitors can expect a brilliant spectacle of balancing tricks, jumps, swimming passages with the trainers and a nasty shower for selected park visitors. You should have seen this show too.
Slowly the review of Le Pal is coming to an end here, but the zoo is still not quite finished yet. Hopefully you had enough time to take a breather, so let’s go for round no. 3. This time the path leads us to the big steppe, where zebras, numerous antelopes and ostriches cavort. On the opposite side of the steppe there is a kind of game park, which is beautifully situated in a wooded area with a treetop path, from which you have an excellent view of the great novelty of this year.
Past the meerkats, whose enclosures are literally hidden away, as well as the kangaroos, hyenas and emus, we are now drawn to the park’s largest and longest roller coaster, the Family Launch Coaster Yukon Quad. It’s not my fault that Le Pal really did put the ride in the middle of its far too big zoo. Although the ride is still brand new, it already looks incredibly harmonious, as the vegetation also plays along. But the general design of the ride is a class of its own. But before I go any further, let’s take a seat on one of the quads.
The Preshow tunnel is quickly reached. A few light effects, some fog and zack, you will be accelerated by the friction wheels. With a pronounced speed we now throw ourselves into a left turn close to the ground before we climb a hill. We cross this hill with shallow airtime, but the following course presses us well into our seats. With good luck we now go over hill and dale in a curve and then wonderfully alternate between left and right curves close to the ground. On the following straight the second launch follows, which, as we all know, adds a good amount of fun. With 90 km/h it goes immediately into a right turn close to the ground, which changes into a short zigzag passage. Now one races up and down through a turn-around curve before a change of direction close to the ground follows. The following curve leads into a higher hill, which results in a turn close to the ground. Now two straight hills follow crosswise to the other end of the ride. After a right bend close to the ground, which changes into a wide left turn, the braking track of the ride is reached, whereupon the ride of more than 1000m slowly comes to its end.
Those who know Juvelen from the Danish amusement park Djurs Sommerland will also get their money’s worth with the mirror-inverted Yukon Quad. The ride convinces with its near-ground and quite wild curve manoeuvres. Furthermore, the pacing of the roller coaster is simply fantastic. It is therefore hardly surprising that the ride was immediately well received by the park’s family visitors. As the wildest family roller coaster since Taron, it can’t be marketed Europe-wide, but for France this statement is absolutely true. A great ride, which hopefully serves as a beacon in the French park landscape.
We are now done with Le Pal. I hope you enjoyed this park as much as I did. The mix of zoo and amusement park is presented here in perfection; thanks to Yukon Quad, the areas are also becoming increasingly mixed. Nevertheless, each area can fully convince on its own. The amusement park is great and the zoo is terrific, so you should definitely take enough time. The advice about the two visiting days is serious, because even on my visiting day, time was running out quite quickly.
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